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From the Trainer’s Room: Which is better to use? Kettlebells or dumbbells?

 

dumbbell_kettlebell

No matter what level of athlete or weightlifting you are at, you have most likely asked yourself, “Do I use a kettlebell or dumbbell? Which is better?”

When both are implemented into your training regimen, it’s excellent but in different situations. You have to ask yourself what the goal is in your training. Are you working on strength, hypertrophy, stability, or endurance?

First, let’s start with the design of each:
-A kettlebell’s center of mass is below the handle. In other words, the weight is below the handle, which creates less stability.
-A kettlebell can be held with two hands.
-A dumbbell’s weight is evenly distributed on both sides, creating more stability.
-A dumbbell is typically held with one hand.

Now that we know some of the design differences between the two, let’s talk about when to use them for each goal (strength, hypertrophy, power, stability, etc).

For strength, I personally use dumbbells, more than kettlebells. To build strength, we need stability, so using dumbbells would be beneficial since the weight is more evenly distributed. Dumbbells are also easier to grip, which is needed for strength movements.

For hypertrophy, use both!

Hypertrophy is driven mostly by volume (sets and reps). So as long as you’re focusing on volume, both can be used. Muscle activation can also play a role. The article below talks about muscle activation between both implements and the biomechanics behind them. For power, both can also be used.

However, for dynamic movements (cleans, snatch, and other Olympic style movements), kettlebells would be more useful since you can grip them with both hands and are easier to use overall. You can also control the rotation of the kettlebell (ex: having to rotate the kettlebell around the wrist for a snatch).

To improve power in most closed chain movements (think of squat, bench, and deadlift), I believe dumbbells are more useful. For metabolic conditioning circuits, kettlebells are better since metabolic conditioning circuits typically have a lot of dynamic movements. A popular movement for a metabolic conditioning circuit is the overhead farmer walk. The farmer walk can not only improve your conditioning, but the overhead position with a kettlebell can challenge an athlete’s shoulder stability as well, which is why I like using a kettlebell more than a dumbbell in this situation.

However, if you’re trying to get a “pump” and are doing something like Escalating Density Training (I will do a blog about this later), dumbbells are a better option due to the muscle activation, biomechanics, and more stability (read the article posted at the bottom). In conclusion, both of them have their uses. It depends on the goal and context of what you are trying to accomplish.

Check out this article for more details on this topic.

For more information, visit www.competeperformance.com.

— Alex Wakely/Compete Sports Performance & Rehab

(November 23, 2022)


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